One of my favourite bits of the job as Agile Coach is sharing any knowledge I may have with those a few steps behind me on the road. This week I was asked the question below and I thought it would be a good time to try and summarise a few bits and pieces I’ve picked up on my Agile journey – if it helps just one person to avoid stepping in something sticky and unpleasant on that road then it was worth it.
“I wondered if I could get your perspective on how I could take the next step in my evolution to become an Agile guru.”
First of all I need to clarify a few things…
- I’m not an Agile guru
- I know a bit more today about Agile than I did this time last year/last week/yesterday
- Tomorrow, or the day after, I may have learnt some more and have a different opinion on anything discussed below
But anyway here’s a few pearls of wisdom…
There is no black & white
If someone tells you that they have the definitive answer to any Agile question be very afraid and possibly consider running away. Agile is about continuous evolution and improvement by employing techniques of inspection & adaption. This means that anything we consider ‘best practice’ today may fall out of favour tomorrow when we find a better option.
The Agile community is awash with opinion and ideas. Much of it is contradictory and can often confuse the newcomer who assumes there is only one answer to a question. It is these differences and the subsequent debate that often lead to the next level of understanding or process improvement (see ‘Fear of Conflict’ in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team).
Every Agile environment is different and success in one is no guarantee (or even a good indicator) of success in another. Keeping your mind open to the benefits of failure and subsequent learning is perhaps one of the hardest concepts to become comfortable with.
When tackling any Agile related issue don’t expect a definitive answer immediately. Consider options and select one that looks like it will put you closer to the target. The important bit is remembering to review the situation on a regular basis and being prepared to change direction based on any new information often. If something doesn’t work out as you expected don’t be downhearted but consider what you have learnt from the experience
“Take it to the Team”
In order to develop your Agile mindset you will need to discuss things with other people on the same journey as you. Whilst the ‘Take it to the Team’ philosophy (see Coaching Agile Teams – Lyssa Adkins) is more normally associated with recognising that the team is best placed to find answers to issues, it is also useful to recognise that you wont reach your full potential on your own.
Taking an active role in the Agile community is perhaps the single most valuable thing I can suggest. If you’re fortunate to have any local Agile groups running events then make every effort to attend. Check out sites such as meetup.com to find a group – I’m sure they will welcome an enthusiastic newcomer with open arms.
If you can’t find people to share with face to face, then join an online community. There are numerous excellent discussion groups focused on Agile here on LinkedIn and elsewhere. Due to the wonderful diversity of humans that frequent online communities you will find people who irritate and infuriate, but in amongst them there are plenty of genuine Agilists who are willing to listen to your questions and ideas and share their own experiences and perspectives without judgement.
Reading is good for the soul
There are a huge number of books out there on the subject. There are also thousands of blogs and other online articles. You will need to find your own personal favourites but if you’re like me, you will quickly find a resonance with certain authors and refer back to them frequently. I could at this point add a very long list of potential authors for consideration but I’ll limit it to three proven sources of inspiration.
- Mike Cohn – author of several de facto standard books with pragmatic solutions to everyday Agile issues faced by teams. Mike provides a weekly blog with original material and some very helpful Youtube videos
- Lyssa Adkins – the book Coaching Agile Teams mentioned above and the associated training course completely changed my approach to my role and I shall be forever grateful for Lyssa’s insight
- Tobias Mayer – never afraid to challenge convention, Tobias has really helped me clarify my own thoughts and understanding. The People’s Scrum is a must read
Courses & Certifications
Training courses are an excellent (but relatively expensive) way of learning. Public courses are a great way to to meet other Agilists and often you will make useful contacts for discussions in the future.
There is an ongoing debate as to the value of certifications within the Agile community with much concern over the reliance of recruiters on such things as a measure of someone’s capability. Just remember that a basic certification means you passed an exam and have some knowledge – it doesn’t mean you know how to apply it at the coalface.
Personally, if funds permit, I find certifications useful in a couple of areas:
- With a structured method of learning it’s easy to track what you have learnt and when. You don’t always have to attend a course and studying online for something like Scrum.org’s Professional Scrum Master (PSM1) can provide you with a framework to learn. Passing the exam provides confirmation of learning for your own peace of mind.
- Opening doors. Many job opportunities will have a basic certification as a requirement or desire, so you are giving yourself more options to practice your skills.
Which brings us nicely to…
After all the learning, you will need an opportunity to learn by experimentation and this requires a working environment that is committed to at least trying to be Agile. You will need support from management and be allowed to fail and try again as part of the journey and if your current position does not provide that environment then ultimately you will need to find one that does.
Thankfully the number of businesses now aware of the potential of Agile is significant. Look for one that aligns with your own mindset and encourages the Agile principles. One note of caution – in my experience a larger organisation may offer more opportunities to learn from others but is far more likely to have missed the essence of Agile and be treating is as just the next project management methodology. Don’t be afraid to consider opportunities with smaller organisations that want to travel the Agile journey with you.
Take every opportunity to learn. Listen to as many ideas and opinions as you can, face to face and online, and always try to remain open minded to possibilities. Question things that don’t make sense to you, take time to digest the various opinions and reach a stance on every issue that you are truly comfortable with.
be prepared to change your mind tomorrow